It was only a matter of time. The hit stage musical with a hatful of Tony awards finally comes to the big screen with great aplomb, though not too much fanfare. But hey, that just isn’t Clint Eastwood’s style. The director re-creates the rock ‘n’ roll era with a no-nonsense feel that befits the young hoods who would rise from the streets of New Jersey to become ‘The Four Seasons’.
There’s a touch of GoodFellas about the scene as Tommy DeVito (played with gusto by Vincent Piazza of Boardwalk Empire) sets it with a cool aside to the audience – a device lifted from the stage show and used with varying degrees of success here. He tells us, straight, the boys were mixed up with the Mob, albeit clearly on a small-time level. Eastwood demonstrates an eye for comedy as he pictures Tommy and Frankie (John Lloyd Young who originated the role on Broadway) clownishly botching a late-night raid.
For Tommy, getting collared is no biggie. Guys from the neighbourhood drift in and out of prison so frequently they know the guards on a first-name basis. Frankly, it’s all a bit of a gas and even the local don Gyp DeCarlo seems like a fun kinda guy, especially because he’s played by Christopher Walken with a characteristic glint.
The songs lift the tempo, too, after Tommy puts Frankie up front in their band, laughably dubbed ‘The Four Lovers’ with doofus Nick (Michael Lomenda) on bass and clean-cut out-of-towner Bob Gaudio (a pitch-perfect Erich Bergen) who is fresh from penning the annoyingly catchy ‘Short Shorts’. He’s brought in by wannabe manager Joe Pesci – yes, that Joe Pesci (Joseph Russo) – who gets one of the laugh-out-loud lines in the movie, foreshadowing his own future in showbiz.
The hits come thick and fast with Young hitting all the high notes in his renditions of ‘Walk Like a Man’, ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry’, ‘Oh What a Night’, ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’, and a good few doses of ‘Sherry’ (the brilliant ‘Beggin’ is curiously overlooked). What the set pieces lack in spectacle, the performers make up for with sheer exuberance. You can’t help but hum along and Young has the acting chops, too, for the drama that happens backstage when chart success begins to expose rifts in the band and at home, where wife Mary (Renee Marino) is “busting his balls” and hitting the bottle.
These are the moments, between the big numbers, where Eastwood might have stamped his authorship a little more emphatically. He follows the beats of the show at a steady pace, but musical razzmatazz is always more electrifying live on stage; it’s the intimate, emotional tussles where the film should excel and doesn’t, quite. Eastwood may be the actor’s director, but he’s working with a script that doesn’t dig deep enough around the personality faults that threaten to break up The Four Seasons, particularly when it comes to the growing friction between Tommy and Frankie as Tommy racks up debts with some very dangerous people.
Don’t expect a full-blooded gangster flick, or a big and splashy song-and-dance show, but something in-between that’s a little harder to define. It’s rough around the edges in a pleasing sort of way, like the guys in the frame, trading on roguish charm and wise-guy humour and, of course, a catalogue of jukebox classics that’ll lift you off your seat.